Water vs. Electricity: Important Considerations for Safety

Water at the right place at the right time sustains life; water at the wrong place and the wrong time can become a nightmare. We need water to survive, but on the other hand, water can be quite dangerous and create unsafe conditions especially where electricity is involved. An important part of any design addresses and manages water. Builders work to ensure water does not intrude into the structure and their fight rages on many fronts; some are as obvious as dealing with rainwater through proper roof structures and a gutter system that removes the rainwater from the structure. Other less obvious fronts include preventing water intrusion from ground springs. Managing the elements of nature is important for safety as water intrusion can cause mold, rust, and other similar types of degradation that also may not be received well by electrical equipment. Mixing water and electrical equipment can have devastating results for safety. It’s worth a probe on this topic to get you and your team in the game and ensure safety is not compromised on your next project.

The combination of water and electricity is commonly associated with electrocution and so the National Electrical Code® (NEC) and other codes and standards work to prevent the loss of life through implementation of many different types of solutions, one of which includes ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). But water can take a toll on electrical equipment itself. Whether it be intrusion of massive amounts of water due to storms, floods, or similar events or prolonged exposure of electrical equipment to smaller amounts of water, both can be very dangerous for electrical systems. Minerals and other contaminants can also be found within the water molecules and can present additional concerns even after the water evaporates away. As electrical professionals we need to understand more about this topic of electrical equipment and water and how to deal with the aftermath of a problem that causes these two to meet.

Wet, Damp, and Dry Locations

When applying products it is important to understand in which environment they will be applied. The NEC helps us with this by defining some important terms and referencing these terms when providing installation requirements.

The key terms defined in the NEC include the following:

Location, Damp. Locations protected from weather and not subject to saturation with water or other liquids but subject to moderate degrees of moisture.

Accompanying this definition is an informational note adding more clarification; damp locations may be difficult to spot. The informational note offers examples of damp locations which include partially protected locations under canopies, marquees, roofed open porches, and like locations. Also mentioned are interior locations subject to moderate degrees of moisture, such as some basements, barns, and cold- storage warehouses. Identifying a damp location may not be as black and white as you may think. Many situations present themselves that you may think are dry locations but in fact are damp.

→ Location, Dry. A location not normally subject to dampness or wetness. A location classified as dry may be temporarily subject to dampness or wetness, as in the case of a building under construction.

Location, Wet. Installations underground or in concrete slabs or masonry in direct contact with the earth; in locations subject to saturation with water or other liquids, such as vehicle washing areas; and in unprotected locations exposed to weather.

I have received many questions focused on situations surrounding flooding where electrical equipment was in a flood or water was poured directly through the equipment. The hard questions though surround those less obvious situations such as those where equipment is found with beads of water in and on sensitive areas. Many take it upon themselves to de-energize and dry the equipment after fixing the water intrusion issues. The equipment may appear to be perfectly fine when in reality problems could be hidden. Drops of wate